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New Russian Missile Penetrates Missile Defense

January 26, 2011

William Chedsey


The chief of a secretive Russian military industrial corporation boasted to a Russian news agency that a new intercontinental nuclear missile it is helping to build cannot be stopped by proposed U.S. or European missile defenses.

Artur Usenkov, head of the firm Rosobshemash (Russian General Engineering), last week told ITAR-TASS that its unnamed replacement rocket for the aging SS-18 intercontinental ballistic missile, a project begun in 2009 and to be completed possibly as early as 2017, will get past any  nuclear missile shield, the London Telegraph reported.

“This applies in the fullest sense to the USA’s anti-missile defense system and to NATO’s European missile defense system,” Usenkov said. The SS-18 is the only heavy ICBM the original START treaty allowed Russia to deploy; its range encompasses the entire continental United States.

Equipped with 10 warheads, there are between 59 and 88 SS-18 silo launchers spread across Russian territory, the Telegraph’s Moscow correspondent Andrew Osborn reported.

“They are capable of withstanding anything except a direct hit from a nuclear weapon,” Osborn noted.

The development of the new ICBM comes in spite of the New START treaty between the U.S. and Russia, which calls for deep cuts in the nuclear
arsenals of both powers. Osborn said Usenkov’s boast regarding the new Russian ICBM’s capabilities went “largely unnoticed.”

Moscow-based defense analyst Pavel Felgenhauer last week wrote that
the Russian military claims it will keep SS-18s in use until 2026 “to keep a sufficient number of deployed warheads.” Felgenhauer also noted that Yuri Solomonov, chief builder of many of Russia’s nuclear missiles, “confirmed Russia’s new ten year (2011-2020) armament program contains a clause about developing a new heavy liquid-fuel ICBM.” Solomonov said that in 2012 or 2013 Moscow must make a “collective decision” on whether to go beyond “design research” regarding such a missile.

Seeking a missile that thwarts missile defense is nothing new for Russia’s military. In December, 2009, Russia’s then-Strategic Missile Forces chief, Lt. Gen. Andrei Shvaichenko, said Moscow planned by 2016 to replace the SS-18 by developing a new liquid-propellant ICBM that could carry 10 warheads. And as long ago as May, 2007, Moscow boasted that a test of its ten-warhead RS-24 “strengthens the capability of the attack groups of the Strategic Missile Forces by surmounting anti-missile defense systems.”

Russia’s legislature wants to amend the New START treaty with provisions allowing Russian “development, testing, production and deployment of new strategic offensive weapons, capable of penetrating” ballistic missile defenses. It also threatens a Russian unilateral withdrawal from the treaty if a missile defense against Russian nuclear missiles is successfully deployed.

The money for an effort as ambitious as an unstoppable ICBM is available; Vladimir Putin, Russia’s powerful prime minister and former president, has promised over $670 billion in new spending on Russia’s military in the course of the next decade.

Last month, Putin told CNN’s Larry King that Russia would deploy nuclear weapons and “put in place new strike forces” if Western missile defense installations created “additional threats” near Russia’s borders.

About the SS-18:

SS-18 Mod 4

Country: Russian Federation
Alternate Name: Satan, RS-20V
Class: ICBM
Basing: Silo Based
Length: 34.30 m
Diameter: 3.00 m
Launch Weight: 211,100 kg
Payload: 10 MIRV warheads
Warhead: Nuclear 500 kT (x10 MIRV)
Propulsion: 2-stage liquid
Range: 11000 km
Status: Operational
In Service: 1982-?


Russian Designation: RS-20V
The SS-18 is an intercontinental-range, silo-based, liquid propellant ballistic missile deployed by the Soviet Union. It is the largest of the fourth generation Soviet intercontinental-range missile and the only ‘heavy’ missile allowed under the second Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT II). A total of six versions are known to exist. The SS-18 was extremely similar in design to its predecessor, the SS-9.

The SS-18 Mod 4 is an extremely powerful strategic weapon. It carries Multiple Independent Reentry Vehicle (MIRV) warheads, each with a nuclear yield greater than that of many contemporary missiles. It has range such that all major targets within the continental United States could be attacked. The SS-18 Mod 4 is simply an upgraded version of the SS-18 Mod 3. The Mod 3 may have been insufficient for an effective anti-silo attack, but the upgrades for the Mod 4 make the missile a likely candidate for an attack against hardened targets. An SS-18 Mod 4 warhead has a decent chance at destroying a US silo and the probability of a successful strike can be significantly increased by aiming multiple MIRV at a single silo. The MIRV warheads could also be used to destroy population centers, making the SS-18 Mod 4 a viable asset for counter-value targets.

The SS-18 Mod 3 and 4 have the same general design; the only difference is MIRV accuracy. Whether the Mod 4 brought accuracy to 650 m CEP or improved upon this accuracy is unclear. The missile uses an inertial navigation system with digital computer guidance and control. The missile is a massive 211,100 kg, with a length of 34.3 m and a 3.0 m diameter. It uses a two-stage liquid propellant engine.The SS-18 Mod 4 can deploy its 10 MIRV warheads up to a range of 11,000 km. Each MIRV warhead has a yield of 500 kT.

The SS-18 entered development in 1969 as a replacement for the SS-9 missile. It was essentially a redesigned, modernized SS-9. The flight tests started in 1973 and the Mod 1 version of the missile was first deployed operationally in 1975 within converted SS-9 missile silos and launch complexes. The SS-18 Mod 2 entered service in 1978, with the Mod 3 and Mod 4 entering service in 1980 and 1982 respectively. By 1991, there were 308 SS-18 missiles in silos grouped among six major launch sites.

The first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I) required the number of SS-18 missiles to be reduced to 154 by 2003. As a result, the early versions of the SS-18 were removed from service to maintain the more advanced models; all Mod 1 missiles were removed by 1994 while the Mod 2 missiles were removed by 2001. The requirement of the START I has been fulfilled, as only 145 SS-18 missiles remained in service by the end of 2002. This was accomplished by destroying or converting the missiles into satellite launch vehicles. There were believed to be about 58 Mod 4 missiles still in service in 2001. As the project to deconstruct SS-18 missiles is still underway, it is believed that only 70 of the missiles were operational in July 2008.

The Mod 5 and 6 missiles were first launched in 1988.  These models have improved accuracy, a similar first and second stage motor, similar accuracy and a similar payload. Due to an extended life program they will be in service until 2020.(1)

  1. Paul Mbugua Gichuhi
    February 24, 2012 at 8:11 am

    Many are those who think cold war ended with the dissolution of the soviet union, but the truth is it continues even today. May God have mercy on us.

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